From School Strategic Plan to Action: Reflections from a Superintendent
It's been a year since the school district surrounding Columbus, Indiana started their strategic planning process. The district team partnered with Education Elements, and during a time of increased uncertainty, chose to set a clear direction. Now, as the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation prepares to roll out their new plan this coming fall, we talk with superintendent Dr. Jim Roberts about how he is positioning the work with the community, so that together they can do the challenging work of reaching their goals.
Andrea: You and your team chose to start the strategic planning during a very challenging time. Can you share why this was the right time for you and your team?
Jim: Although it seemed like a tough time to start such a daunting task, it was the best time for a combination of reasons. My fifth year as superintendent of the corporation was drawing to a close and the plan implemented during my first year needed to be refreshed. The challenges brought on by the pandemic required us to constantly make tough decisions. Tough decisions are made a little easier when the proper filters, a solid strategic plan that allows for appropriate pivots, are in place. Strategic planning also provided us with a diversion; instead of the continual dialogue around COVID-19, we had the therapeutic experience of engaging our stakeholders in more robust conversations about our plans for the next five to ten years.
Dr. Jim Roberts, Superintendent
Andrea: How have you built energy around your strategic plan?
Jim: Energy was initially derived from our engagement with 19 stakeholder groups and the use of a musical theme. Music is something that nearly all of us can relate well to and its use created a fun and engaging experience for those participating. Once we had taken all of the information gathered and finalized the key components of our plan, we incorporated three main strategies to inform and implement:
- School Board Update: We had been updating our team throughout the process and we knew we needed to have a culminating activity where we shared our strategic plan with our School Board members. Besides our regular public meetings, we have Board Strategic Planning Sessions built into our calendar and we leveraged those to bring our members completely up to speed. We then had a first and second reading at regular meetings to inform the public and gain formal School Board approval.
- CICs and CCIC: We had a continuous improvement structure already in place in our district and we reinforced it to ensure everyone was on the same page. Our CICs are “Continuous Improvement Councils” in each of our 18 school buildings and they are responsible for aligning their buildings’ efforts with the corporation plan. The CCIC, or Corporation Continuous Improvement Council, directs the strategic planning effort at the corporation level. I share CCIC co-chair responsibilities with the teacher association president, ensuring that all that we are doing has the full engagement of our union.
- PD Days: Based upon recently passed Indiana legislation, we requested a waiver to reduce our number of student days and replace them with staff professional development days. With nearly 2,000 employees, we knew we had to find an efficient way to involve them in implementing our plan. At this point, we have had two full days with everyone in the whole organization: teachers, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians, clerical staff, and administrators.
Andrea: Having a full PD day is a huge investment of time and resources. How did you and your team make this work?
Jim: We had to submit a waiver application to the State Board of Education requesting that we count our school year by instructional hours instead of days. By state statute, our elementary and secondary schools exceed the minimum number of required daily hours. Our application was approved which allowed us to reduce the total number of student instructional days while maintaining our number of teacher contract days. With the approved application, our School Board then approved a revised calendar that has us keeping our kids at home for 4 days in the school year while staff members participate in professional development. We treated our first day, in February 2022, as an experiment as it was the first time we had everyone together at the same time for such a long period of time. Fortunately, our investment of time with the community resulted in their support for such a use of days. We survey our community annually to get feedback on the calendar, so we tied in our knowledge of their expectations to build in the 4 days to coincide with preferences for holidays. A presentation regarding our strategic plan and the use of our first PD day can be found here.
Some school corporations have also been creative with time, including starting their school day a little later for students or ending it earlier. We decided to go with the full day because we thought that it was a better investment of time and allowed for both a whole corporation and building focus within the same day.
Andrea: What feedback did you receive on this day?
Jim: We have now had two full PD days and have done an exit survey following each one. For the first, we received nearly 1,400 responses and about 1,200 for the second. This gives us over 2,500 pieces of data! The feedback for the time has been overwhelmingly positive, but we have also learned a lot and are making appropriate adjustments.
Andrea: How did you go about structuring the day?
Jim: For each of our two days, we began with a corporation wide focus and then used the afternoon for building related work. For the corporation efforts, we have combined synchronous and asynchronous engagement to involve the nearly 2,000 people we have working in 22 buildings (18 schools, 4 adult only).
- For the overview of the strategic plan on our first PD day, I presented live from a classroom and the feed was to each building. We wanted to make sure we infused the day with a collaborative spirit. We then had collaborative conversations and mixed in different types of media and resources.
Andrea: I know this is a feat to plan. What structure do you lean on to make this happen and how does it mirror your strategic planning process?
Jim: Fortunately, we had some structures already in place that allowed us to move forward rather quickly with the implementation of our plan.
- Corporation Continuous Improvement Council (CCIC): This is the group that is on the hook for the plan as they mirrored the steering team of the strategic planning process. They are responsible for the eventual final approval of all PD days for our staff members.
- Continuous Improvement Councils (CIC): Each school has a CIC to make decisions at the building level to align to the strategic plan. This mirrors the different layers we incorporated through our stakeholder engagement.
- School Board: We have been communicating with the board on an ongoing basis throughout our development of the plan and through the beginning of its implementation. We have two dedicated days in addition to regular board meetings to work together on strategic planning initiatives.
Andrea: What is on the horizon for BCSC?
Jim: Getting better. With every experience, we will gather feedback and make improvements. Our second PD day looked a little different than our first and our third is starting to shape up a little differently than our second. Everything we do is focused on gaining the most value for our staff members (and, in turn, our students). Our parents are keeping our students home for four days per year so that we can get better. We must demonstrate that we are indeed doing that.
Andrea: What are your biggest recommendations for other leaders implementing a new strategic plan or a new initiative?
Jim: First, engage as many people as possible in the development of the plan (or initiative). This is time consuming, but…go slow to go fast. Second, ensure that the engagement has led to support. As a leader, it is not fun to run out of the locker room leading your team on the floor…and then realize the team hasn’t followed you onto the floor. Third, create a system that can move the plan (or initiative) forward that includes continuous improvement components. Last, have fun with it. There are a lot of things that we deal with that aren’t fun. Strategic planning allows us to step back and work on the things that matter the most to us…and doing stuff for our kids should be fun.
Interested in learning more? Join us for our Webinar on June 21st where we will discuss the process in Bartholomew.
About Andrea Goetchius
Andrea Goetchius is an Associate Partner at Education Elements, working with schools and districts to best meet the needs of all learners. Andrea enjoys collaborating with and connecting clients across the country to leverage a community of innovation as schools embark on a personalized learning path. Andrea began her career as a Special Education Teacher in Glendale, Arizona. During her time in the classroom, she coached and supported student teachers and led staff development. Andrea then worked for Teach For America as a Manager of Teacher Leadership Development where she coached and supported teachers to match their strengths and skills with the needs of their students. She has coached in pre-school to twelfth-grade classrooms with a focus on implementing Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in the classroom. In her current role, Andrea specializes in projects that bring personalized learning to scale across districts, regional centers, and state entities. She is passionate about the development of innovative leaders.